An Architect Lists His Connecticut Retreat and Airstream Pool House for $1.45M
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An Architect Lists His Connecticut Retreat and Airstream Pool House for $1.45M

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
After turning a drab residence into a midcentury-style dream house—complete with an Airstream guest suite—architect Donald Billinkoff puts it on the market.

Architect Donald Billinkoff—who has worked on high-profile projects such as the Joyce Theater in New York and renovations to the Los Angeles Central Library and Los Angeles County Museum of Art—and his wife have moved multiple times, embarking on major remodels with each new home.

When the Billinkoffs started looking for a home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, an area with which Billinkoff was familiar through previous clients, they sought a classic midcentury that could be updated and customized. They wanted the trappings of the era: single-level living, expanses of glass, high ceilings—something that would be well-suited as a weekend getaway to enjoy with their children and grandchildren.

Architect Donald Billinkoff turned an awkward 1968 residence in New Milford, Connecticut, into a light-filled retreat.

After a long search, their broker came across a listing in New Milford, though it didn’t quite fit the bill. The home had been built in 1968: "A decade too late to qualify as midcentury, and a period considered less than stellar in American residential architecture," says Billinkoff. 

It was, according to the broker, "a peculiar house with some very unattractive features," adding that, "it might be an insurmountable design problem, but it has great views." 

"As one architect friend described it, the long, high, narrow aluminum windows inserted in the beige brick facade lent the house the appearance of a rest station in a public park," says Billinkoff. "While the layout had some evidence of rationality, the rooms felt enclosed with little connection to each other or to the landscape outside."

Before: The brick facade’s long, narrow windows reminded Billinkoff’s architect friend of "a rest station in a public park."

Post-renovation, the home is much more connected with the landscape.

Billinkoff transformed the facade into a row of full-height windows. 

A hallway runs along the full-height windows.

There were fluorescent fixtures that were partly hidden behind wood valances, and the floors and walls in the entry hall were covered in travertine. The worst offense, according to the architect, was the mansard-shaped fireplace which had been tiled with embossed, chocolate-brown clay tiles and set on a beige brick base with a multicolored terrazzo hearth.

Yet despite all of the questionable design choices, a closer inspection revealed to Billinkoff that there had been higher aspirations. He says, "Deep overhangs sheltered windows from summer sun that were positioned for cross ventilation. There was an impressive beamed ceiling and large expanses of glass with views to the Kent Hills in the distance."

Ultimately, the positive qualities of the home outweighed the negatives, so Billinkoff and his wife purchased it and embarked upon an eight-month renovation.

Before: While the brown tiled, mansard-shaped fireplace was an abomination, contemporary detailing around windows and doors and the use of "once high-end" appliances and hardware suggested to Billinkoff that this had been a custom home for a discerning owner.

Billinkoff learned that the original architect had also designed institutional buildings in Connecticut—meaning, the home was remarkably solid. So solid, in fact, that "some of the most difficult work was the demolition," he recalls. "For example, one of the bathrooms is built with concrete block walls and poured concrete ceiling. Maybe it was supposed to also serve as a bomb shelter—after all, it was the mid-’60s."

The aforementioned fireplace had also been built to last. The original mason had embedded the tile in concrete that formed the mansard. When it did not reasonably yield to demolition, Billinkoff decided to just hide the mansard behind a screen of concrete block, blackened steel, and sheetrock.

The fireplace resisted demolition, so Billinkoff hid the mansard behind a screen of concrete block, blackened steel, and sheetrock.

The living spaces benefit from much more natural lighting, giving the tongue-and-groove ceiling a warm glow.

The open-plan living space connects to the kitchen. Billinkoff designed a nine-foot-long dining room fixture by inserting an under-cabinet LED light inside a steel channel. 

Billinkoff expanded the kitchen, adding custom shelving to display the couple’s teacup collection, though he ensured that they could be removed and replaced with conventional kitchen cabinets. "Even while designing it for our use," he says, "I also anticipated that someday, that may not work for the next guy."

The bright kitchen connects to the dining area. Billinkoff designed the custom kitchen cabinets, which include removable shelves that house the couple’s teacup collection, with pre-finished maple and plastic laminate fronts. The countertops are Corian. 

In the kitchen, east-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows replaced the small slotted windows above what was once a small eating area.

To further open up the house, full-height partitions at the entry and around the kitchen were removed, exposing the stair to the lower level.

Billinkoff took advantage of the home’s thoughtful siting by adding a 600-square-foot screened porch adjacent to the dining room. Inserted into a steel frame, the porch is open on three sides and perched one story above the yard.

The original roof pitch was borrowed, flipped up at its far end to open the space to the woods beyond. Billinkoff also designed all the ipe wood furniture for this added space, which is now his favorite part of the home. 

The wall separating the media/guest room was removed and replaced by a 10-foot sliding plywood panel. There are also sliding glass doors that lead out to the patio. 

The master bedroom enjoys views from two sets of sliding doors. 

The master bathroom has double sinks and a fantastic view of the surrounding woods. 

The lower level, which holds an additional bedroom, features a  large studio space with exposed beams and a polished concrete floor, which was an addition to the existing structure. 

The primary goal of the renovation was to open up the interior and maximize the views.

The property also includes a heated pool and an Airstream pool house/guest suite.

Billinkoff had always wanted an Airstream and found one while his wife was traveling in Africa with a friend. "Coincidentally, this model is called Safari. It was in perfect working order, but we knew camping was not for us, so I gutted the interior and converted it into a pool house," he says.  

The Airstream has a bathroom and sleeps four. "The kids love it," says Billinkoff. 

"No matter where you are in the house, you now have views of the surrounding woods," says Billinkoff. 

10 Paradise Lane is currently listed for $1,450,000 by Ira Goldspiel and Steve Pener of William Pitt Sotheby's International Real Estate.

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